March 18, 2012

Retirees: How Did We Grow Up So Deprived?

The speed at which technology evolves is both amazing and terrifying. Just when we take the plunge and buy something new to enhance our satisfying retirement, the upgraded model is already been released. I read a few days ago that up to 33% of all adults will be using tablets, like iPads and Kindles within four years. Considering that the very first iPad was made available less than two years ago, that is incredible.

This shift in how our lives are directly and deeply impacted by technology got me thinking about the things that seemed so normal when we were growing up. Today, most of our citizens would feel severely deprived if they had to live with:

Only 3 TV channels. ABC, CBS, and NBC were it when I was young. We were not the first to have a TV in our neighborhood. I remember running down the street to watch The Howdy Doody Show at a friend's home...on a 13" screen. Today even "basic" cable has 22 choices! 

Beta, then VHS tape. Our growing family choose the loser, Beta. Then, we spent months copying those tapes to VHS. Digital? Hadn't been invented yet. Remember sitting down to watch a movie and finding out someone hadn't rewound the tape from the last time? Or, the movie you wanted was in the middle of the tape and there was no search function? Streaming movies? Nope. No Internet!


No computers. I am not so old that I used an abacus, but I remember when having a small calculator for balancing a checkbook was a big deal. Occasionally we'd see a picture of a room-sized "super computer" but no one could imagine what it did or how it would ever be part of a normal person's life.

Pay Phones. Always leave home with several dimes (then quarters) in case you had to call someone during an emergency. Pay phones, undamaged and with a full phone book were as common as blue mailboxes (Oh, there's another thing that is virtually gone!). The idea of being in touch 24/7 would have seemed ludicrous. Who is that important?

Long distance train travel instead of airplanes. Taking 2 days to get to Florida instead of 4 hours. Planning a trip to include sleeping and eating while the country and city view rolled by your window. Not having to take off part of your clothing to travel and railroad employees who treated you like a guest, not an inconvenience.

Just one car per family. For most of us, one car was entirely sufficient. Dad went to work while Mom stayed home. She was the chauffeur for after school events, if Dad took the train to work. Otherwise, the kids walked or took a bus. The family went out to dinner or driving vacations together. Whoever got to sit in the front seat was allowed to control the AM radio.

Music on big vinyl discs that get scratched. Learning to pick up a tone arm and put it on the track you wanted in the middle of the record became a necessary skill. The only thing that was burned was toast in the kitchen. The idea of creating your own music disc?.....a daydream. You liked one song you bought a 45 rpm single. You like two songs you bought the entire album.

Neighborhood specialty stores. A big box store was a store that sold moving boxes. While there were some larger supermarkets in bigger towns and cities, they could be quite a drive away. 7-11 or Circle K didn't exist, so filling in the shopping gaps took place at a local general type store that handled more than just food. But, if tools or duct tape were needed a small hardware store would be your destination. Gas stations only sold gas, not sandwiches, cold drinks, and candy. Selections of most products were rather limited and out-of-season fruits and vegetables were generally unavailable year round.

No ATM Machines. If you were low on cash you made a trip to a local bank, you talked with a real teller while she (few male tellers!) cashed your check. If cash ran short on weekends, then you didn't spend it because there was no way to get any more.

Vacations that involved mostly sitting, talking, or napping. Many of us spent the family vacation at the beach, or at a church camp in the woods. Others would pile in the family station wagon and visit relatives. I spent many joyous summers on my grandfather's summer "farm", a two story home and barn on 36 acres about 2 hours north of Pittsburgh. There was no electricity and no running water. All we had to keep us busy for two weeks was our imagination and helping grandad repair something that needed fixing. The outhouse was down the path and the kerosene latterns were all we needed to have someone read us a story before bed. And the hammock was always occupied.


I could continue with another page or two, but I bet I've stimulated some memories of yours. What do you remember growing up with that no longer exists, or most younger folks would think belongs in a museum? Are we better off with the newer "models?" In many cases, yes. But, there are parts of our lives growing up that younger folks will never experience and that's too bad. My satisfying retirement is certainly built on some of the things that are no longer part of our world.

34 comments:

  1. Oh Hahaha! 3 TV channels. In black and white no less! I don't miss that. But many of the other things, like easy going vacations. We still do that. My husband won't part with the record albums so they take up too much space in the closet. Pay phones, nah. Don't miss those. ATM's. Love those. They spit money out at you, what is not to love, right?
    The neighborhood specialty stores. I do miss those. I do think they will come back at some point.
    Great Sunday post....

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    1. My career in radio obviously involved lots of vinyl records. It was a tough transition for me to move to CDs. Now, my daughters wonder why I don't copy those to an iPod and free up the room needed for 500 CDs and two CD jukeboxes.

      ATMs, you gotta love 'em. Cash whenever you want it. What an invention. And, one of the joys of touring Europe is their continued reliance on small specialty shops in most towns.

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  2. Some things I am grateful for now...central air conditioning, snow blowers, and jeans. When I was in high school girls were not allowed to wear pants. I was sent home once when I dared to wear culottes (don't even know how to spell that anymore..but it was a skirt that split like pants) I had frostbit knees more than once walking home from school. The summers were sweltering with only fans to cool us off...don't miss that.
    We also had doctors who made house calls...but we get better care now, so that doesn't need to come back. My mother didn't drive so we had the milkman, the Watkins man, and the Fuller brush man as regular visitors. That was exciting.
    We could go on and on couldn't we? Many of our memories are wonderful ....as long as they stay "memories"!

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    1. You are right in that memories are an important part of our life, but we live in the present. Of course, over time we will make more memories that, when looking back 10 or 20 years from now, will be our "fond" memories.

      I know I could never live in Phoenix without air conditioning, though people did for a hundred years. But back then, it cooled down at night quite a bit because there were farms everywhere. Now, concrete and building mean a 90 degree night is not unusual in August.

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  3. The hi-fi that pumped classical music into the house for hours on the weekends. No one would dare to play their own music out loud these days.
    Driving to San Diego for a month and having dad show up on the weekends.
    Sunburns and the soda jerk (can we even say that anymore?)
    Ten days in the hospital after baby was born (ah- to have care after the baby....amazing).
    Affordable health care and people were allowed to die of old age.
    Church with extended family.
    Evap air conditioning and "ice with a fan" in Phoenix in the summer . The ice house where we got my Nana's ice. I don't miss the hand fans that we had going.
    People deciding that getting married is the next level of commitment instead of having a baby together.
    I don't miss 8 track tapes...did those ever work?
    Still don't use ATM machines (gasp). I will when we go to Europe- their banks still work 9-3.
    Overall, I prefer today...but wish my grandchild could have a bit of yesterday.

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    1. Yes, Hi-Fi, not even stereo. Growing up we had a large console Hi-Fi that played records and had a built in AM-FM radio: quite a big deal for the time.

      Betty and I are going to take a long train vacation this fall..Phoenix to New Orleans and back. We love the pace of train travel and are looking forward to it. Anything to avoid planes.

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  4. Playing outside after school or on the weekends. Going to the neighborhood park, three blocks from our home, without fear. Having my dad build my sister and I a skate cart from some old pair of skates and wood boards. Hopscotch, stick ball and just hanging out with my neighborhood kids/friends and having a blast, without fear. Drugs were unheard of. So was smoking and alcohol.

    I just remember having fun and being free from fear. Unfortunately, kids today don't have that luxury.

    M

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    1. Going to the park without fear..waiting outside for the "Good Humor Man" and his ice cream truck. Yes, the world has changed and we've had to teach our children and grandkids to be careful instead of to be open.

      I will say, though, that some times we can overplay the "fear" card. The world isn't as evil and dangerous as we sometimes paint it, at least not in most of our neighborhoods. I want my grandkids to be cautious but live life without being afraid all the time.

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  5. Interesting post! There are some good things that I miss from the past and some modern conveniences I couldn't do without. I spent my junior high and high school years in a small town, and no one locked their doors, everyone left their keys in their cars, which were parked in an open driveway most of the time, and most of our time after school was spent outdoors. I had a transistor radio and enjoyed tuning in faraway stations at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. The excitement of getting a (gasp) color TV. My mother had accounts at the grocery and the drug store, so if she didn't have enough money or just needed a few items, she could 'charge' it (without using a plastic card) and pay it when she could.

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    1. My first love of radio came from listening to a transistor radio while living in Cambridge, Ohio. The only local station signed off the air at sunset, so I'd listen to WLS from Chicago or KDKA from Pittsburgh at night under the bed covers.

      We were one of the last in our neighborhood to get a TV but one of the first get color. Of course, there wasn't much on but it did open up the whole world. Howdy Doody and Captain Kangaroo were my favorites.

      I don't remember when we started being aware of security and door locks, but it wasn't part of my childhood.

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  6. Slide rules!!!! When i was an undergrad, a calculator with square root function was $1,000 ( about $2,000 inflation-wise). Our slide rules were carried with pride and the physics and engineering studnts wore them on their belts. Today, I wouldn't even be able to see those tiny numbers! I'm no leading edge techie, but I think it's a good thing that computers have enchanced our lives so much. We lived without them, sure, and I like efficient cars that last longer than 40,000 miles too!
    Dr. Keith

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    1. Ah yes, slide rules. I never really figured out how to use it but I carried one with me because my dad used them at work and I thought having one made me cool. How about a full set of protractors?

      Most of the advances that are now part of modern life are a vast improvement over what came before. But, I chuckle when even my own daughters wonder how life was lived without a TiVo and cable TV.

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  7. The one modern thing I have to say that I really hate is our ever increasing dependency on hand held devices. I am no Luddite but it really bothers me to see so everyone with their faces down all the time, totally oblivious to the world around them. That scares me. After all, didn't they tell us to be aware of our surroundings after 9/11? We are more oblivious now than we were then.

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    1. You are so right. Look at any crowd of people of virtually any age and the majority have their heads bent as their eyes scan their phones. No one is talking...just texting and surfing. I made the point in an earlier post that we could be brought to our knees by the disruption of our electronic leash to the world. Many people under 35 would be unable to communicate if cell phones and laptops stopped working.

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  8. Steve in Los AngelesSun Mar 18, 09:45:00 PM MST

    Among the many things I remember, I mention the following: (1) "The Good Humor Man" ice cream truck on the street where I grew up, (2) four-cent and five-cent postage stamps, (3) trips once-a-year with my parents and sisters to the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas for three days and two nights in August, (4) four percent interest rates on savings accounts at banks and five percent interest rates on savings accounts at savings and loans, (5) gasoline prices of between 28.9 cents per gallon and 36.9 cents per gallon, (6) automated record player (no longer have) and large records (many of which my parents purchased that I still have), (7) the only television stations in Los Angeles were Channels 2 (CBS) - 4 (NBC)- 5 (independent) - 7 (ABC) - 9 (independent) - 11 (independent) and 13 (independent) and through the early 1960's all of the shows were in black-and-white and we watched the shows on our Packard Bell black-and-white television with electrical tubes, and (8) the banks were open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 3 pm and Friday until 6 pm (closed both Saturday and Sunday and, of course, no ATM machines). I also remember watching on Friday nights "The Flintstones" on Channel 7 from 8:30 pm to 9:00 pm and the first five minutes (so that I could watch the opening "Warner Bros." credits) of "77 Sunset Strip" which started at 9:00 pm. After those first five minutes, I then had to go to bed (even though there was no school the next day, which was Saturday).

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    1. Remember the "gas wars" when prices would occasionally dip to 19 cents at some of the area gas stations? Of course, cars only got 8-10 miles a gallon so filling up was still a regular occurrence.
      At almost $4 a gallon here in Phoenix it is hard to believe we have adapted to such a massive increase while still depending on the internal combustion engine.

      It's difficult to explain to anyone younger than 50 that watching a black and white TV was a real thrill. They would probably assume it was broken.

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    2. Steve in Los AngelesTue Mar 20, 09:41:00 PM MST

      I definitely remember the "gas wars". My parents looked for gasoline stations that were in "gas wars".

      The black-and-white televisions definitely were a real thrill. I remember watching the "Perry Mason" television show, which was in black-and-white. Furthermore, even today, I can watch "I Love Lucy" in black-and-white. I certainly hope that "I Love Lucy" never gets colorized.

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    3. Colorizing old movies was a terrible idea. I am glad that particular trend seems to be dying.

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  9. Wow, great post and great comments! Quite a trip down memory lane. When I was a kid in rural Oregon, we only had one TV channel and kids were lucky to get one hour of TV programming with cartoons. I read and reread the same books that I loved because nobody thought to market to kids with special lines of books and TV channels.

    Back then too, nobody thought about nutrition much. Our food was homegrown in our garden and we ate white bread, butter and sugar sandwiches for lunch. A huge treat was a can of spaghetti O's!

    Nobody was obsessed with their cholesterol numbers either. My mom was a farm cook, meat, potatoes and gravy for every dinner. My dad's uncles were farmers and ate greasy food with every meal. They also worked like demons all their lives and died in their 90's.

    What I worry about is the constant noise and stimulation in our lives. Unless you make a regular habit of meditating or even sitting quietly in your back porch swing and looking at the sky, you are constantly bombarded with stimulation. When my grandkids visit me, their favorite thing to do is entice me to the big covered swing in the back yard, where we watch the clouds and the birds. I'm afraid kids, with constant entertainment filling their every moment, will forget how to get in touch with what's inside them.

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    1. Some great stuff here, Joan. Spaghetti O's and Beefaroni were big treats. Growing up we were allowed one soft drink a week. My brothers and i usually choose Friday night because there was something on TV we'd watch as a family. My kids, who are not big soft drink drinkers, still found the "one coke a week" rule funny.

      The human body is not designed for constant stimulation from outside sources. You are absolutely right about the risk of being plugged in or turned on all the time. My vacations at my granddad's summer place are some of my fondest. With no electricity and no running water (just a big hand pump in the kitchen) we learned to manufacture our own entertainment or sit quietly and listen to the adults talk.

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    2. My Grandpa and I used to spend hours playing checkers and sitting on the back porch swing (that's why I like doing it with my grandkids, I guess).

      When we get our RV, we want to take the grandkids camping and no electronic devices allowed!

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  10. Oh, those rose colored glasses! :-)

    I sometimes miss the sense of innocence that existed back in the day when we didn't have 24/7 media telling us how dangerous our world was. However, I had my own childhood brushes with danger due to how ignorant we all were about the insanity of humans, and am thankful I knew better when I raised my own children.

    I loved the tactile ability to pickup and hold record albums, but I don't miss how fragile the actual records were. Can't tell you how many I ruined by leaving them too close to my window, or accidentally scratching them.

    Loved rushing home to watch our favorite shows, that truly was magical, but appreciate the convenience of not having to fashion my day around when a particular show will be on.

    Don't care two hoots about the array of TV and movie viewing options now available - I'm convinced too much TV viewing creates a really unpleasant life. And most movies these days bore the living daylights out of me. I'll always choose the book over the movie.

    I'm using my e-reader less and less in favor of getting free books from the library, however, I see this reversing once libraries build larger e-book lending libraries than currently exist. At that point, it will become a tremendous and convenient way to stay replete with reading material.

    The cell phone isn't a biggie for me, though I do appreciate the convenience. I rarely use mine away from the house, using it more like a landline replacement than a portable phone. When I do need it away from home though, yes, it's convenient. Not convinced our kids are better off from having them however . . .

    The single most life altering advancement for me has been the creation of the internet. Is my life better? Guess I'll never know, but it certainly is more information filled than it probably would have been otherwise.

    It makes me smile to think our children will go through this same exercise in about 30 years. What, oh what, will be their "remember when?" memories. It will be interesting to find out!

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    1. Every generation looks back and wonders how their parents "survived" without....? At the same time we look back and put on those "rose colored glasses" and see the world as more benign and pleasant than it really was.

      Since I started blogging my cell phone has become very important. I am alerted when a new comment or e-mail comes in that needs a response. I use very few minutes for actual conversation a month. Four of us share 700 minutes as part of a family plan and I doubt we use half that in a normal month. But I am becoming increasingly adept at texting since that is how my daughters prefer to be contacted and I do use lots of MB of data each month.

      I agree about the Internet, Tamara. Without it you and I wouldn't be communicating and our world would be much, much smaller and less exciting. Like TV was promoted in the 1950's as the technology that would educate and entertain the world, the Internet links us all together, for both good and bad.

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  11. Bob... You're so right. So very much has changed in the area of technology. Your description of watching Howdy Doody on a thirteen inch screen (black and white, no doubt) brings back memories for me. And I remember the very first time I saw a color television. I was probably fifteen years old at the time. Walking in a commercial district in New York City, I passed by a bar. As the door to the bar was open, I was able to see the screen of a color television at the bar's back wall. Too young to go inside the bar (legal drinking age in New York, at the time, was eighteen years), I stood watching the TV from the open door. After a half minute or so, the bartender chased me away. Bill

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    1. I remember us having a sheet of colored plastic that was put over the b&w TV screen. It was supposed to make the picture look as if it was in color, but the effect was terrible.

      We were not a big TV family. The Ed Sullivan show is the only one I remember us watching on a regular basis.

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  12. The first thing that came to mind was my treasured princess phone. Boy, did I feel like I hit the jackpot when that phone was hooked up in my room! With a lighted rotary dial!

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    1. We used to have one of those in our bedroom...I thought we were cutting edge! Have you ever watched a teenager try to use a rotary phone by pushing the holes? It is completely foreign to their world.

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    2. I have not seen that--That is hilarious!

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  13. Funny, we were just discussing if we'd rather go without a TV, or without computer. B said TV. I voted computer. It's odd, because I use the computer more than she does; but I just get so ###@@#@## frustrated when the darn thing doesn't work ... like, right now, when I'm flying without a printer because it crashed yesterday.

    Btw, saw the Bankrate piece on Yahoo finance. Congrats!

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    1. I'd choose the computer, too, because it can work as a TV. Most network and PBS shows are now available just a few days after they air on their web sites.

      But, even more important, the computer (with Internet) allows contact with the world and all the information and entertainment you would ever need.

      Of course, when the darn thing freezes up you'd like to toss it out the door!

      I had given that Bankrate interview 5 months ago and had completely forgotten about it. There were some mistakes in some of the financial info I supplied to the author, but generally it was accurate.

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    2. I enjoyed the piece on Yahoo Finance. You are one busy guy!

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    3. Yes, but it is a "good" busy.

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  14. I cannot imagine what it would be like to sit in front of an electronic box or gagdet as a child, instead of playing outdoors.

    I'm a bit younger than you, but I still recall playing outside all day and being FORCED to go inside because it was getting dark. Playing Red Rover Red Rover, First Bounce or Fly, Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, Hide n Seek, hopscotch, and putting on neighborhood plays and shows (our poor parents suffered valiantly). I remember when I got my lace up rollerskates, not the clamp on kind that constantly fell off. I was on top of the world! It was fantastic to have play that involved plenty of physicial activity and imagination, back in the days when childhood obesity was nearly nonexistent.

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    1. Being one of three boys in my family, we didn't play many of the games you remember but we certainly spent most of our time after school outside. TV was a new phenomenon and its use was quite restricted. Somehow we managed to stay busy and entertained. I think it was known as being creative. Too many kids today have no idea how to use their own minds to entertain themselves, and that is a real shame.

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